Monday, June 20, 2011

Veneer or Virtue to Illegals?

Ordinarily, I agree with Dr. Moore.

Russell Moore, Dean of Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, writes a blog exploring our North American culture from a relatively reformed Baptist perspective. Last year, I was delighted to discover that Moore and I share the same alarmed conviction about conservative blowhard Glenn Beck. Moore took a lot of heat for that blog entry from many in the evangelical community infatuated with Beck, but he was right-on.

Last week, however, not so much.

This past Friday, Moore blogged about our need as evangelicals to stand down from the political contention over illegal immigration. He believes the Gospel and our rigidity towards observing sovereign immigration laws are incompatible. He characterized the infant Christ as an illegal immigrant when Joseph and Mary fled Herod's wrath to Egypt. And through it all, particularly for an academic, he commits surprising lapses in logic by floating between immigrants here legally and illegally, and how they should both be treated the same way.

If you peruse the reader feedback on his blog, you'll find some astute rebuttals to the most obvious flaws in Moore's argument. For example, could the Holy Family have been illegal immigrants when Egypt had no immigration laws or quotas? Can we pick and choose which laws we're going to support when they don't explicitly contravene God's holy laws? And who in the evangelical community has officially expressed an interest in deporting legal immigrants?

Yes, we are to show compassion to the "sojourner and stranger." But at the same time, most of the "sojourners and strangers" coming to the United States are not fleeing political or religious persecution. They are not simply passing through our country, on their way to a farther destination. Nor are they really even strangers any more, since they are being aided and abetted by political liberals, slave labor employers, and even human traffickers in the United States.

To be fair, Moore does not actually come out and advocate for granting blanket amnesty to illegal immigrants. And he acknowledges that evangelicals have varying - and deeply-held - political viewpoints on this subject. In addition, he legitimately criticizes a racism that persists in mostly-white evangelical congregations from Seattle to Miami which likely contributes to the attitude of intolerance he, albeit inaccurately, attributes to the immigration debate. I have to agree with Moore's suspicion that a lack of love motivates much of the closed-border rhetoric.

Yet the overall language of his blog entry describes a mindset which pooh-pooh's the how's and why's of illegal immigration. His perspective, at least as he's conveyed it, lumps all immigrants together regardless of their legal status. And ironically, he strikes an accusatory tone against those of us in the evangelical community who have become frustrated with our society's continued mish-mashing of this issue, exemplified by Moore himself.

Racism With a Twist

While Moore correctly diagnoses a strain of racism in America's border debate, it's not just white bigotry that's in play.  Consider, for example, that most of the illegal immigrants in the United States today are Hispanic, having traversed the natural land bridge connecting South and North America.  Although they've risked robbery, rape, and murder along the way, they've had a relatively simple commute to America, at least compared to people who might want to emigrate here from Africa or Asia.  El Salvadorans, Brazilians, and Mexicans don't have an ocean to cross to get here.  Which means letting our southern border act as a damaged sieve is akin to, as our liberal brethren would otherwise accuse, racial profiling. 

Sound far-fetched?  Think about it.  By failing to enforce our land borders, we're creating an unfair advantage for illegal immigrants from Central and South America at the expense of Africans and Asians who might come to America illegally.  Most people traveling to the United States from Rwanda or Bangladesh arrive through a seaport or airport, where their identification and travel authorization will be checked.  Yet how many more immigrants from war-torn countries in Africa, or from nations like Indonesia known for religious persecution, could more accurately be described as political refugees instead of ordinary immigrants?  And therefore, probably more worthy of sanctuary in the United States, despite what our quotas say?

Meanwhile, millions of Hispanics have crossed into our country not as political refugees or dying of hunger, but simply looking for better work. Speaking as one of the chronically under-employed, I can understand the desire to improve one's economic lot in life.  But from both a sociopolitical and a Biblical standard, breaking sovereign laws to find a better job doesn't stack up against religious persecution, genital mutilation, and other crimes against humanity that we know are being endured by people in other parts of the world.

Even hinting at amnesty - however granted or "earned" - for illegal immigrants is a slap in the face of those who might desperately need to be resettled in the United States not for just a better livelihood, but for a better life, period.  How many openings in our legal immigration quotas are being denied people in real need so that we can accommodate the illegals who've, in effect, butted into the head of the line?

As it stands, winking at illegal immigration from our southern neighbors could be considered a form of fraudulent humanitarianism.

Repatriation as an Economic Development Tool

Consider, too, that amnesty is not a responsible, proactive social or political policy.  It does not improve employment conditions for illegals already working in the United States, because as long as the border is open, fresh supplies of undocumented workers will continue to displace documented workers.  After all, even though a lot of business owners claim they can't get legal Americans to do the work they can get illegals to do, the reason isn't so much because Americans are lazy, but that American workers know they are due at least a minimum wage and OSHA protections.  If an employer knows he can pay $5 cash per hour and not have to worry about illegal workers reporting him to OSHA, who do you think he's going to hire?

If America repatriated the illegal immigrants already in this country, couldn't we actually be helping to expand economies in the poorer countries south of our border? After all, those governments have been reaping the rewards for years of not investing in their nations, while receiving receipts their citizens working illegally in the United States have been sending home. Isn't it about time we started forcing these corrupt governments and officials to take responsibility for the economies, educational systems, and social services of their countries? By sending home millions of people who've seen how effective a functioning democracy can be - despite our problems - isn't is possible that real change could begin to sweep through their perennially defunct homelands?

Of course, this is exactly what many of those governments don't want: real change. They're happy with the status quo; of having disillusioned citizens - people for whom they can't provide basic services anyway - leaving for greener pastures. Who cares if they go into America illegally? If they're so unhappy at home, chances are they could be troublemakers, agitating for economic and political change that would upset their autocratic applecarts.

How is this scenario humanitarian? How does this help to solve the nagging problems plaguing most countries in Central and South America? If millions of prime working-age people are leaving their families behind in impoverished countries, who's going to be taking care of their parents as they age? How does glossing over the problems illegal immigration creates in the United States help solve the problems we don't see in the countries these illegals have left behind?

Taking Christ to the Nations

And if we're talking about evangelizing illegals - one of the strategies Moore advocates, and against which I can't argue - couldn't repatriation help here, too?

After all, spreading the Gospel by sending believers back to their homelands could send a powerful message of trusting in God instead of jobs. In terms of practicality, it could also help keep Anglo missionaries out of harm's way, as believers returning to their native countries might be able to elude the unwanted attention white Americans might attract during the brutal drug wars ravaging that part of the world.

Shouldn't we be teaching that breaking the law is not a virtue? If and when God redeems to Himself people who are illegal immigrants, wouldn't it be appropriate for them to recognize that their presence in the United States hasn't been secured legally? How would the whole pattern of conviction, repentance, and restoration work in this situation?

And doesn't granting amnesty based on economics also throw a kink into the whole "love of money is the root of evil" thing? In other words, don't we perpetuate our society's over-reliance on money, jobs, and affluence by saying illegal immigration can be justified just because someone wants a better job? Upon Whom, or what, are we teaching illegals to trust?

Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin?

To the extent that evangelicals need to treat all individuals as people created in the image of God, yes, we need to heed Moore's exhortation to exhibit God's grace to illegal aliens in the United States. But is grace a license to sin? That's not what we teach our kids, is it? What about criminals behind bars in our country, some of whose crimes were less heinous that violating sovereign boundary laws? What message does writing off the crimes of people who aren't even citizens of this country send to people who suffer proper penalties in our judicial system?

We all benefit from the fact that God's love doesn't always look like ours. I confess that I have not been consistent in my benevolence, particularly when it comes to people I think may be illegally living in this country. And to my shame, I'm not exactly a model of graciousness. So I've got things to work on in this situation, too.

But I can't help but rely on the testimony of a former co-worker of mine from Costa Rica who, for twenty years, jumped through all of the immigration hoops to live, study and work in the United States legally.

Finally, an immigration officer told him unofficially that his chances of securing citizenship were not bright, because he had mastered English and obtained a PhD in engineering. He wasn't a manual laborer our government could easily ignore; he was an educated, driven person who could take away jobs from Americans.

Our immigration system is rife with inequities. Maybe I'm a bad Christian, but I fail to understand how blithely dismissing illegal immigration under the guise of compassion rectifies any of them.
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